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Customs commissioner quits

CUSTOMS Commissioner John Phillip P. Sevilla resigned Thursday from the Bureau of Customs, citing political pressures as the 2016 presidential elections draw near.

In a press conference, Sevilla said he didn’t want to use the agency he headed as a “milking cow” for politicians in the coming elections.

He also mentioned that an influential religious group is lobbying to appoint certain people in key posts at the bureau, particularly in “very sensitive” positions.

Sevilla became Customs commissioner in December 2013.

Sources at the bureau said Sevilla was referring to lawyer Teddy Sandy Raval, acting chief of the BOC Intellectual Property Rights Division, who will supposedly be moved to the post of Enforcement and Security Service, which is in charge of anti-smuggling operations.

Sevilla was informed of the plan--supposedly hatched in Malacañang--to promote Raval last November, but Sevilla has repeatedly refused to carry it out.

Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) chief Jessie Dellosa was also said to be opposed to Raval’s promotion because it would run against the reforms that Sevilla and Dellosa have tried to implement.

“Why should he be placed in that position? He belongs to the old group and that will ditch all our reforms,” said the bureau source.

During the press conference, Sevilla referred to “fund-raising activities” involving the bureau during election years.

“We are changing that, and I think we have done a lot to change that. Whether it is an election year or not, politician or not, corruption is wrong. Period. We should fight it,” Sevilla said without elaborating.

“I don’t compromise on morality. The law is clear on what is allowed and [what is] not,” the commissioner said.

Sevilla said he resigned because he is not a political person.

“I am sad that I could not finish what I started,” Sevilla said, referring to reforms he pushed to eradicate corruption in BOC and to increase collections.

“I did my best to improve the process in Customs to make it easier for legitimate importers, to reward good behavior and penalize bad behavior. This is a work in progress,” Sevilla said.

The Customs bureau is said to be one of the most graft-ridden agencies of government and used as a source for raising funds for politicians.

In the Palace, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said President Benigno Aquino III has appointed Air 21 president Alberto D. Lina to replace Sevilla.

Lina is a close associate of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima.

Both Lina and Purisima are members of the “Hyatt 10” group of Cabinet officials who bolted the Arroyo administration at the height of the public outcry over the “Hello Garci” scandal.

Lina served as then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Customs chief in 2005. His stint lasted five months before his abrupt resignation.

Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. urged Sevilla to name the persons exerting political pressure on him.

“I think he should identify the people he claims are pressuring him and what these people want him to do. Since he has already resigned, he should tell all he knows to prevent a repetition of the political pressure he mentioned,” Marcos said.

“What does he mean when he is being told to do something in preparation for the election? What does it mean exactly? That because of the 2016 elections political pressure was exerted on him and by whom?” Marcos said.

“I think when he referred to pressure, he was being asked to do something illegal. That would be important for the Justice Department to investigate,” the senator added.

He said the executive branch should also explain what happened, adding that he has repeatedly heard of vested interests lobbying for people to be named to certain positions in the bureau, but it was the first time he heard that elections have something to do with appointments to the bureau.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said the government lost an outstanding public servant and described Sevilla’s resignationas “unfortunate.”

“It is imperative that the next commissioner will continue the reforms initiated by Commissioner Sevilla,” Senator Aquino said.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said he was sad about Sevilla’s departure.

“I respect his well-discerned decision to resign. In a span of a year and half, he has shown us that what was then impossible is now possible. It is possible to hope that we can transform institutions, with uncompromising courage and integrity,” Purisima said.

“There is always a time when one has to rest and take leave: today is one such day for a fine public servant who has waged the good fight against corruption well,” he added.

Sevilla, a product of Cornell and Princeton universities, he served as undersecretary for six years under two Finance secretaries. – With Macon Ramos-Araneta and Jennifer Ann Ambanta

 

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